Monday, June 1, 2015

Daredevil Season 1, Episode 8, "Shadows in the Glass" REVIEW (SPOILERS)

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In Daredevil episode 8, “Shadows in the Glass,” it is time for Wilson Fisk to step into the limelight.  For the first time in the entire series, we are getting an episode that is almost entirely dedicated to our primary villain.  What are his motivations?  What turned him into the man he is now?  How does he like his eggs?  All of these questions—and more—are answered in “Shadows in the Glass”!

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The episode shows us Fisk’s morning routine three times.  Twice it is virtually the same; the third time shows how the events of the season have been affecting him.  His morning routine begins in the early hours of the morning with him waking up suddenly—perhaps from a dream—and staring at his painting, “Rabbit in a Snowstorm.”  He prepares an omelet for breakfast—always the same.  He eats breakfast alone.  He chooses his outfit for the day from a row of virtually-identical suits and several different shirts.  From his collection of cufflinks he picks out the same two every day.  And when he looks in the mirror before leaving, he sees himself as a scared child covered in blood.  All through this sequence Fisk does not say a word; all we hear is classical music playing in the background.  It is fascinating what this says about him.  He is very precise in everything that he does.  He is extremely organized.  And yet, his organization and routine hide a deep, dark psychological trauma he suffered as a child.

Meanwhile, we switch from a very organized room to one in complete disarray—the aftereffects of Matt’s bout with Stick in the previous episode, “Stick” (1x07).  Matt seems to be suffering from his own depression because of the physical and emotional beating he took.  As mentioned previously, Matt learned that Stick actually cared for him, but he drove Stick away.  By comparison to the mess that Matt appears as, Fisk almost seems to have his life together.  Of course, the rest of the episode demonstrates just how twisted up Fisk is.  I like how they contrast the hero and villain with this opening sequence, showing the similarities between their journeys.  This helps to set up the rest of the episode, as well as their conflict at the end of the season.

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Once Matt arrives at the office, he walks in on Foggy and Karen discussing their investigation into Wilson Fisk’s operation—and specifically whether or not to bring him in on it.  Eventually they decide to tell him, and even tell him that they have been working with Ben Urich on it.  Though Matt is initially fearful for their safety—especially after finding out about the attempt on Karen’s life outside Mrs. Cardenas’ apartment building in the previous episode—he decides to join them when he realizes they are not going to leave it alone.  However, Matt insists that they need to do it the “right” way:  using the legal system.  A superhero who wants to defeat his arch nemesis through the justice system???  Since when does that ever happen???  Well, Matt Murdock—lawyer by day, superhero by night—wants to do things legally.  How cool is that?  Very cool, and fresh.  Unfortunately, we should all be able to guess that it’s not going to work out quite that way for him…

However, Matt is only a secondary plot in this episode; the majority of it focuses on Fisk.  Fisk meets with Nobu, who is understandably upset that the Black Sky boy is dead—apparently they are extremely rare, so this loss has set his organization back considerably.  However, Fisk rebuts him by pointing out that the failure was not on his part, but rather on Nobu’s for not disclosing the value of his cargo.  Naturally, Nobu does not take this well and storms off.  Fisk notes that Nobu “needs to be taught some manners”—the first hint that Nobu is going to be the next target of Fisk’s “consolidation” efforts.  When Wesley questions Nobu’s role in the organization, all Fisk can say is “necessary evil.”  Obviously, he is the most expendable member of their group.

The flashbacks throughout the episode to Fisk’s childhood are an interesting parallel to the flashbacks throughout the season fleshing out Matt’s origin.  We find out that Fisk had a rough childhood:  poverty, dad’s debts, dad’s abuse. His father ran for city council for no other reason than to receive bribes, and lost.  He took out a loan from Rigoletto—a loan shark—and when he lost the election, he had no way to pay him back.  Other kids bullied little Wilson, until his dad forced him to beat one boy up and kick him while he was on the ground.  And then his dad told him to sit in the corner and stare at the wall until he decided what kind of man he was going to be while he beat up Wilson’s mother.  After listening to his mother’s screams and sobs for a while, Wilson couldn’t take it anymore, grabbed a hammer, and bashed his dad’s head in.  Mom helped him to cover up the murder—removing those same cufflinks that Fisk wears all the time from his father’s shirt in the process—and then sent him out of the city to keep him safe.  This was an incredible amount of background for them to give to the villain.  After seeing everything that Fisk endured as a child, it is a little more understandable that he has become what he is now.

The flashbacks punctuate the rest of Fisk’s story.  He learns that Detective Blake woke up after having been shot in “Condemned” (1x06).  He meets with Hoffman and bribes him into finishing off Blake.  However, Matt appears at the hospital room and has a moment to speak to Blake just before he dies.  Meanwhile, Fisk has to appease Owlsley by taking him to Melvin Potter, the “suit-maker” who makes all of Fisk’s armored suits, to have a protective suit made for Owlsley.  Owlsley takes it out on Fisk when Wesley informs the two of them that the “man in the mask” was at the hospital with Blake before he died.  At this point things are not going Fisk’s way, and it goes even worse the next morning when Madame Gao comes over for a visit.  She calls him out for knowing Chinese (even as she knows English) and reprimands him for getting sloppy enough for her to learn where he lives.  Ultimately, she explains that she came to visit as a courtesy:  If he doesn’t get his house in order, she will cut him out.  As soon as she is out of the room, Fisk flips his table and stares out the floor-to-ceiling windows for the rest of the day.

I find it fascinating that Fisk has so much respect for Madame Gao when he looks down so much on everyone else.  I suspect that he views her as a mother-figure.  He did horrible things to protect his mother, and consequently he seeks approval from the women in his life—his mother, Madame Gao, and Vanessa.  Learning Fisk’s psychological motivations—helped along by Vincent D’Onofrio’s performance—makes Wilson Fisk one of the most well-developed villains in the MCU.

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Before concluding Fisk’s story, we need to talk about the other sub-plot with Matt, Foggy, and Karen.  The three of them are hard at work investigating their case.  While researching, Karen discovers that Blake is awake—compelling Matt to visit the hospital in the mask to see what Blake knows.  That next night, Matt—in the mask—brings all of his information to Ben Urich.  Though he is initially fearful of “The Devil of Hell’s Kitchen,” Ben knows that there are two sides to the story and agrees to listen to Matt’s version.  Matt gives Ben all of his information—“Wilson Fisk” and “Leland Owlsley”—and urges him to publish it to expose Fisk and his machinations.  Sadly, Matt is totally naïve:  he thinks that as soon as people know who Fisk is, they will turn on him; in reality, this is a chess game, and right now it’s too close to call.  At this point Matt seems to have the advantage, but Fisk takes it back almost immediately.

The same evening that Matt meets Ben, Wesley brings Vanessa to Fisk’s penthouse.  We learn that all of the flashbacks are simultaneously Fisk’s musings on the past and his story to Vanessa of what he did and why he is the way he is.  Vanessa accepts everything that he says, comforts him that he is not a monster, and spends the night with him.  The next morning Fisk goes through his morning routine again, but with noticeable changes.  Instead of staring at the wall, he snuggles with Vanessa.  He makes two omelets, and she eats breakfast with him.  She picks out a different suit, different shirt, and—significantly—a different set of cufflinks for him to wear.  Instead of staring at himself in the mirror as a blood-spattered child, he stares at Vanessa, who interposes herself between him and the mirror.  And then he calls a press conference in which he comes out of the shadows to pledge that he will rebuild Hell’s Kitchen.  Matt and his friends all watch the press conference, and are all visibly upset to see it.  Ben deletes the partially-completed draft of his article exposing Fisk.  Matt pushes his computer off the table.

It is clear that in the narrative, this episode ends right around the moment when Fisk looks most likely to triumph, and Matt looks closest to defeat.  If it were to end right now, you would think that Fisk really has triumphed.  However, there are five episodes left, and the story is far from over.  I really enjoyed seeing just how Fisk became the man he now is, and how much Vanessa cares for him.  It is fascinating to think that even the villain has people he cares about, and people who care about him.  Really, Fisk’s character arc this season is as much about Vanessa and her impact on Fisk as it is about Matt’s impact on him.

I haven’t seen a single episode of Daredevil that I did not enjoy thoroughly, and this episode did not disappoint, either.  I love how much time Daredevil gives to its villains—proportionately more than Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. even does, and in season 2 AoS devoted several full episodes to the villains.  I look forward to seeing Marvel take the same care in fleshing out the villains in their other Netflix series.

What did you think of this episode?  Who is your favorite Marvel villain?  What villain do you think needs or needed more time to flesh out his or her character?

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